When a drought takes place, it seems that’s all the affected region thinks about. Officials promise infrastructure changes and long-term conservation to make it easier the next time around. But all the intention seems to stop once the reservoirs are sated.
California is kicking off Year Six of the worst drought recorded there. And as conditions become wetter, taking one-fourth of the state in the clear, Governor Jerry Brown wants to make sure the Golden State does not fall victim to such short-term memory. Local industry advocates worry that agencies’ response to this wish may lead to irrevocable problems.
In May, Governor Brown issued an order meant to establish long-term water savings in good times and bad. To oblige, five agencies issued a report called, “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life.” The centerpiece is a bid to require a 25-percent reduction in water use by 2025. It also calls for permanent water conservation and efficiency targets statewide, as well as reporting requirements and plans for enforcement. In addition, the report proposes addressing such matters as repairing leaks in the state’s water deliver systems.
“The good news is there is nothing in the 72-page plan that focuses specifically on swimming pools and spas,” said John Norwood, executive director for the California Pool & Spa Association, in a communication with his members. “The bad news is that it is simply not that easy to conclude that the swimming pool and spa industry will not be adversely affected.”
Particularly concerning industry officials is a proposal to require all of California’s urban water suppliers to submit plans for managing and limiting water use during the various stages of drought, which would be subject to state approval.
For the last several years, the state has trended in favor of exerting more state control over the management of water, with the establishment of Urban Water Management Plans, Water Shortage Contingency Plans, and the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO).
But where some of these measures lay dormant for years, the state is paying more attention to their implementation. MWELO is a particular concern regarding backyard water usage. The law dictates how many so-called high water users can be placed outdoors. Right now, it only applies to lots larger than a specified square footage, which so far is larger than most backyards. “But [the threshold] is getting smaller all the time,” Norwood said.
Historically, municipalities and water providers have set their own drought response plans without state oversight. The pool and spa industry reacts to those measures, the most drastic of which ban pool/spa construction, on an individual basis. During this drought, the CPSA has won most battles, as well as hearts and minds, as the public and officials come to understand that pools and spas are not major water wasters.
But as the state takes a heavier hand in water management, the stakes become higher, Norwood said, because the battles no longer are restricted to a single municipality or water district. If the industry loses on a statewide level, it’s locked in from San Diego to Yreka. And all these measures create a lot of moving parts for the industry monitor, with plenty of opportunity for things to go wrong.
“We’ve been winning on everything we have now, but all of a sudden the game’s about to change,” Norwood said.
To help, CPSA has hired consulting firm Erler & Kalinowski Inc., which specializes in working with the government on water issues. But because of a lack of funds, the organization also has stopped its public relations campaign, which was being conducted by a P.R. firm. For 2017, the only real outreach will come in the form of a Pool and Spa Day to be held in Sacramento in March. This gives the industry the opportunity to meet with government officials and discuss pools and spas and water use.